God’s Justice

Scripture: Genesis 18:16-33

Title: God’s Justice

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • God’s friend
  • God’s justice
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

This morning we continue our series on Abraham by focusing on Genesis chapter 18, verses 16-33

  • – Last week we heard how Abraham provided hospitality to the Lord and two of his angels – Abraham was fully present to the Lord
  • – This week God engages his friend Abraham in a conversation about justice. From Genesis 18, verse 16 we read…

When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.

For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

It’s interesting that the writer of Genesis chose to explore the idea of God’s justice within the context of a conversation with God’s friend, Abraham

 

God’s Friend:

This weekend we’ve been looking after a dog

–         They say a dog is man’s best friend and it is generally true

–         In many ways dogs embody the essential elements of friendship

–         Once a dog gets to know you they like being with you, they give you affection and they remain loyal to you

 

According to the Collins Concise Dictionary a friend ‘is a person known well to another and regarded with liking, affection and loyalty’ [1]

–         This definition tells us there are 4 elements to friendship

–         Knowing, liking, affection and loyalty

–         You really need all four elements for it to be true friendship

 

The kind of knowing that is in view here is not just knowing facts about the other person but the deep knowing that comes with sharing life together

–         Knowing someone intimately, understanding how they think, experiencing both good times and bad with them

–         But simply knowing someone well, isn’t enough for friendship – you also need to like that person

 

Liking is about enjoying or appreciating the other person, spending time with them because you want to, not because you have to

–         We don’t always understand why we like someone, we just do

 

Affection has to do with feelings and it comes from the value we place on that person

–         If we really care about someone we will be affected by what’s happening for them

–         If they are happy it will cheer us up & if they are hurting it will trouble us

 

Loyalty is about what we do – it’s our actions that reveal our true loyalty

–         A friend sticks by you through thick & thin

–         A friend has your back in a fight, they align themselves with your cause

–         Unless of course you are off track and then they will speak the truth to you and get (gently) get you back on track

 

So a true friend (not just the Facebook kind) is someone who knows you well

–         Someone who likes being with you

–         Someone who is affected by you so they feel stuff you’re going through

–         And someone who is loyal – they are there for you when it counts

 

By that definition most of us wouldn’t have a lot of friends but that’s okay because you only need one or two

 

Our reading today begins with Abraham walking along with the Lord God and two angels, in the form of men

–         Abraham doesn’t have to do this but he apparently wants to

–         He likes being with God and wants to spend time with him

 

As they are walking along enjoying each other’s company God says (as if thinking aloud), “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?”

–         (After all friends confide in each other)

–         Then the Lord goes on to say of Abraham, “For I have chosen him…”

 

This is a paraphrase – the original Hebrew actually says, “I have known him…” meaning ‘I have made him my friend’ [2] or ‘I have chosen him to be my friend’

–         The Lord is saying here that Abraham is his friend – he knows Abraham well (or intimately) from years of experience with him and it’s because they are friends that God lets Abraham know what he’s planning

 

In John 15 Jesus talks about friendship in a similar way with his disciples…

–         I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love one another.

 

Friends know each other and trust each other enough to share what they know

 

The story is told of a wealthy businessman who was driven to Wall Street every morning in a shiny black limousine by a chauffer

–         The chauffer was an intelligent man – he loved to read and had in fact taken the job as a driver so that he would have more time to read

–         There was a sound proof window inside the car to give the passengers privacy from the driver but this particular businessman always left the window down – he knew his driver from way back and he liked him

–         In this way the chauffer could hear his master’s business – what his boss was buying and selling on the stock exchange

–         Although he didn’t have a great deal of money to start with he used what he had to buy what his boss was buying

–         And when he heard his boss selling shares, he sold them too

–         Over time the chauffer became a millionaire all because his boss treated him like a friend and not an employee

 

Returning to Genesis 18, the Lord says…

–         “I have known him (or chosen him to be my friend) so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just…”

–         That sounds like loyalty to me

–         When we do what is right & just then we align ourselves with God’s cause, we prove ourselves his loyal friends

 

Righteousness & justice are closely related but they are not exactly the same thing

–         A righteous person lives in a way that promotes the life or well-being of everyone in the community

–         While a just person restores broken community, especially by punishing the oppressor and delivering the oppressed [3]

–         Righteousness is an on-going pattern or rhythm of living

–         Whereas justice is more of a singular action to right a wrong

 

Righteousness is like eating healthy & not smoking to reduce the risk of heart disease

–         Justice is like bypass surgery on the heart

 

Righteousness is not drinking and driving

–         Justice is taking the keys and license away from a drunk driver

 

Righteousness is buying fair trade goods

–         Justice is locking up slave traders

 

Righteousness is recycling and being careful with water use

–         Justice is killing opossums and fining water polluters

 

God’s true friends are loyal to him

–         God knows us (as friends) by whether we do what is right & just

–         We are God’s friends if we love one another

 

Abraham was God’s friend and as God’s friend he shared God’s concern for righteousness and justice

–         Just as God was affected by injustice, so too Abraham was affected

 

God’s Justice:

There is something in us as human beings that needs justice

–         I suspect it is the residue or imprint of God’s image in us

–         Injustice creates a hunger that must be satisfied

–         There are so many crime & murder mystery TV shows

–         I think we watch these not because we like violence but because we like to see justice done – the resolution satisfies something in our soul

 

From verse 20 we read…

–         Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.

 

We notice at least three aspects of God’s justice in this verse

–         Firstly, when something is wrong God takes action to fix it

–         God doesn’t ignore the outcry of those who are suffering – he has compassion and cares enough to do something about it

–         Secondly, God goes down to see the situation for himself, first hand

–         God’s justice is evidence based – he doesn’t act on gossip or hearsay

–         Thirdly, God sends two objective witnesses (angels) to verify the facts

 

These verses don’t specify the nature of the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah

–         They simply say that the outcry against them was great and their sin grievous

–         This probably means they oppressed others and were guilty of a host of injustices – their sin wasn’t just one thing

–         The prophet Ezekiel confirms this view when he writes…

 

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.

 

It appears the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were violent consumerists

–         They were rich at the expense of others, not for the benefit of others

–         They took what they wanted when they wanted, without regard to God or the well-being of the community – the opposite of righteousness

 

After the two men (or angels) had left to check out the situation in Sodom, Abraham stands before the Lord, or (as the original text reads) the Lord stands before Abraham

–         ­Abraham is God’s friend and God wants to talk about this decision with his friend, because that’s what friends do

 

Now at this point God hasn’t actually talked about destroying Sodom & Gomorrah – he’s told Abraham that he’s heard bad things and is going to check it out for himself

 

Abraham is the one who raises the possibility of destruction saying…

  • “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? … Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike…

 

This little dialogue continues to explore the nature of God’s justice

  • – Abraham is probing God to understand God’s justice better
  • – One of Abraham’s concerns is, will the righteous be treated the same way as the wicked? Will the righteous be collateral damage?
  • – And God’s answer is ‘no’
  • The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

 

While we were on holiday a few weeks ago we went for a walk through the Mamaku Forest near Rotorua – beautiful native bush

  • – What we noticed on our walk were these little devices for killing rats and possums and other pests and predators
  • – The really cool thing about these devices is that they target the culprits without doing harm to the innocent
  • – There is no collateral damage with these, unlike poisons which can end up killing the good with the bad
  • – God’s justice is like this trap – it only targets the guilty

 

Abraham’s questioning of God is also trying to discover whether there is room for mercy & redemption in God’s justice?

  • – Can the fate of the wicked be determined by the behaviour of the righteous?
  • – Would God spare the city for a time to see if a righteous minority could turn things around?
  • – And God’s answer is ‘Yes, there is room for mercy & redemption’

 

The rest of the chapter has Abraham pursuing the question of how small the minority of righteous people can be before God would destroy the city

  • – 45? 30? 20? 10?
  • – “This is an important issue for Abraham to explore because his family is to be that righteous minority among the nations” [4]
  • – And God answers, ‘For the sake of 10 I will not destroy it’
  • – God’s justice is very merciful indeed

 

As we shall see in the coming weeks not even 10 righteous people could be found, but God in his grace remembered his friend Abraham and rescued Lot.

 

Conclusion:

This morning we heard about God’s friendship with Abraham and we’ve explored some of the dimensions of God’s justice

The destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah serves as a paradigm for God’s justice

  • – The Lord does not ignore injustice – he is affected by the cries of the oppressed and has compassion on them
  • – God investigates the situation himself and ensures at least two objective witnesses to establish the facts
  • – He doesn’t act unilaterally or in isolation – the Lord involves his faithful ones (like Abraham) in making his judgement
  • – God’s justice differentiates between the righteous and the wicked – the fate of the righteous is not determined by the wicked
  • – To the contrary, God in his grace allows time for the righteous minority to have a redeeming effect on the world around them

 

Jesus said to disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth’ – meaning (among other things) you are the redeeming minority if you do what is right & just.

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    Why do you think the writer of Genesis chose to explore the idea of God’s justice within the context of a conversation with God’s friend, Abraham?

3.)    Discuss the four elements of friendship: knowing, liking, affection & loyalty

–         What other elements might we find in true friendship?

4.)    What proves our loyalty to (or friendship with) Jesus? (Hint, read John 15:12-17)

5.)    What is the difference between righteousness and justice?

6.)    What was the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah?

7.)    Discuss the different facets of God’s justice as revealed in Abraham’s conversation with the Lord. (See the conclusion for a summary of these facets)

8.)    Take some time this week to consider what it means to be a redeeming minority

 

[1] Collins Concise English Dictionary, page 509

[2] Derek Kidner, Genesis, page 132

[3] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 269

[4] John Walton, NIVAC Genesis, page 483.

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